What Netanyahu should say
It should be obvious to the prime minister and his advisers that the world will not be against us if we take real action to investigate what happened.
This is what the prime minister should say, more or less, to his ministers, the Israeli public and the world at the cabinet meeting this morning:
Gaza has been the scene of an armed conflict between the State of Israel and Hamas since June 2007. Because of this conflict, Israel has an internationally recognized legal right to enforce a maritime blockade, for security purposes. This right is conditional on allowing humanitarian aid through, subject to inspection.
The difference between yesterday's ship and last week's flotilla is one between a peace ship and a warlike flotilla. Israel abides by its obligations as defined in international agreements and made clear in the San Remo 1994 Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. Despite the legal justification for the Israel Defense Forces' action, during which our soldiers' lives were in danger, Israel expresses its regret for what took place on the Mavi Marmara and acknowledges the need for an investigation.
However, Israel cannot agree to an international investigation, which would be political and biased. The resolution by the UN Human Rights Council to send an investigative committee to the region foreshadows the results of such an inquiry, much like the Goldstone report, and we will not cooperate with it.
Israel has its own internationally recognized experts in the very field that will be investigated, including retired Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar, international law professors Yoram Dinstein and Ruth Lapidoth, and retired military experts. The government will announce a committee of inquiry within days. Israel will not object to the presence of international observers at committee meetings, except those including information that must remain secret for reasons of state security. The committee will issue a full report within three months, and an interim report within six weeks.
Having said all that, the prime minister will let the ministers - who bear responsibility for the decisions of the cabinet, the forum of seven senior ministers, the prime minister and the defense minister - have their say. The media is a trusty source of information, but the ministers have the right to full information before taking an action that puts Israel under an international barrage much more dangerous than all the metal bars raised by the Mavi Marmara's passengers.
If the government holds that necessary discussion, the ministers will have to comment on the form of the investigation. Only a serious and transparent investigation can remove from Israel heavy international and more-than-moderate American pressure. Maybe. It's safe to assume that the ministers are aware of the only two alternatives - a government investigative committee, with members appointed by the prime minister and defense minister, and a judicial commission of inquiry, appointed by the president of the Supreme Court.
The choice here requires a cost-benefit analysis. A judicial commission is more appropriate, but the demands of the law on inquiry commissions might prolong and complicate its deliberations. An investigative committee is a possibility, if the government gives it powers similar to those of a judicial commission of inquiry. If it is headed by Barak or Shamgar and staffed by credible people enjoying a strong reputation in Israel and abroad, its results have a good chance of being accepted, at least by the United States. It should be obvious to the prime minister and his advisers that the world will not be against us if we take real action to investigate what happened.